The Baltic region has been shaped by a unique conjunction of geographical and historical forces: from the medieval Hanseatic trade network to the long struggle for dominance between Sweden and Russia in the modern era, when forward-thinking societies were forged from revolution and the rejection of a colonial past. Whether the stirring tunes of Tchaikovsky, the distinct National Romantic style of Finland or the principles of modern Swedish furniture design, the distinctive art, architecture, music and design of the region all display the impact of these diverse forces.
Our itinerary is shaped by the Baltic Sea, which played a key role in the region’s history and development; we’ll cross it twice and visit maritime museums and naval sites, as well as exploring the diverse forms of art in the region. Since all the countries we visit have a strong musical tradition, we’ll see at least two performances. Background talks on tour will provide context for the sites we visit on walking tours, gallery visits and driving routes.
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The Vasa Museum
Discover Baltic maritime history through one of the world’s best-preserved 17th-century warships, built by the King of Sweden to protect his Baltic possessions against Russia.
Art Nouveau Riga
Tour the third-largest city on the Baltic. Thanks to a growth boom in the early 20th century, Riga has the highest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in the world.
Learn about Tallinn’s key role in the Hanseatic League trade association and enjoy the beautiful views of its UNESCO World Heritage-listed medieval centre, one of the few in the region with preserved city walls.
Explore the range of work this great Finnish architect, on display in Helsinki. From great public buildings like Olympic Stadium and Finlandia Hall to his house and studio in a quiet leafy suburb, Aalto’s careful control of materials, volumes and light defined mid-century modernism.
Peter the Great’s City
Discover the birth of the Imperial Style through St Petersburg’s palaces. These elegant, neoclassical monuments capture Russia’s moment of arrival as a superpower on the international scene.
Days 1–3: Explore Stockholm’s royal and maritime history, modern architecture and design.
Day 4: Overnight ferry to Riga.
Days 5–6: In Riga, investigate the heritage of this former Hanseatic port and enjoy a
performance at the Riga Opera House.
Days 7–8: Drive to Tallinn, the superbly preserved Estonian capital, and tour the old town.
Days 9–12:Ferry to Helsinki. Visit Russian and Swedish imperial sites and sample Finland’s
remarkable design and architectural scene.
Days 13–17:Train from Helsinki to St Petersburg. Visit galleries and palaces from
Russia’s imperial period and explore the country’s extraordinary history
The tour begins at our hotel in Stockholm and ends at our hotel in St Petersburg. Emirates and Qatar Airlines offer direct flights into Stockholm and out of St Petersburg from most Australian cities. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Monday 29 May – Arrive Stockholm
Flights from Australia arrive at various times during the day. In the afternoon there will be a brief orientation tour of the area near our hotel. This evening we gather in the hotel for a light dinner. Overnight Stockholm. (D)
Tuesday 30 May – Viking Heritage and the City
After a morning talk, we stroll through the elegant Östermalm neighbourhood, admiring the many examples of early 20th century architecture. At the Swedish History Museum, a museum guide shows us the jaw-dropping gold collection, with pieces dating back to 2,000BCE and including many Viking-era pieces. There is then time to visit the fine medieval galleries before a break for lunch. This afternoon we take a short boat cruise through some of the islands that comprise the Stockholm Archipelago, followed by an optional stroll through Stockholm’s oldest neighbourhood, the Gamla Stan. This evening we visit a local restaurant for our welcome dinner. Overnight Stockholm. (B, D)
Wednesday 31 May – Modern Art and an Ancient Ship
This morning we visit Stockholm’s Moderna Museet, one of the world’s finest collections of 20th century painting. There is also an engaging architecture and design museum next door. We then take the tram to to Djurgården island. After a simple lunch in the Waldermarsudde estate, we visit the Vasa Museum. The centrepiece is the 64-gun warship Vasa, which sank on her maiden voyage in 1628 and was amazingly recovered in 1961, almost intact. Built at the height of Sweden’s naval power, she has become a symbol of Sweden’s Golden Age. You may also like to call in at the adjacent Nordiska Museet, a social history museum housed in a vast early 20th-century edifice. Overnight Stockholm. (B, L)
Thursday 1 June – Uppsala; Ferry to Riga
An hour north of Stockholm lies the university town of Uppsala, Sweden’s spiritual and intellectual heartland. Today’s excursion takes us to old Uppsala, with its Viking sites and then to the fine medieval cathedral, burial place of Swedish kings. We then call in at the Gustavianum, a museum on the campus of ancient Uppsala University. After a lunch break there is time to visit the 18th century botanical garden established by renowned Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus. In the mid-afternoon we transfer to Stockholm ferry terminal for our 5.00pm departure for the Latvian capital of Riga. The first few hours of the crossing take us through the stunning landscape of the Stockholm archipelago. We have dinner on board. Accommodation is in comfortable A-Grade outside cabins. Overnight ferry. (B, D)
Friday 2 June – 20th Century Riga
This morning’s agenda includes a talk on the ferry before our 11am arrival in Riga. The principal city of the Baltic States has a 1,000-year history encompassing the Hanseatic merchants and a centuries-long struggle for independence. On arrival we visit some key monuments in the city, then stroll through the elegant district of Art Nouveau architecture just north of the old city. In the early afternoon we visit the National Art Museum, housed in a beautifully restored building. We then proceed to our hotel, with the later afternoon free. Tonight, we’ll dine in a local restaurant. Overnight Riga. (B, D)
Saturday 3 June – The Old City of Riga
This morning our local guide shows us the old town, crammed with historic buildings and winding laneways. We then continue to the vibrant city markets, housed in former WWII Zeppelin hangers. Nearby is a soviet-era district, still home to Riga’s sizable Russian population. This afternoon is free, but you might like to join the tour leader on an optional visit to the Riga Motor Museum, a delightful collection containing over 100 antique vehicles, including a priceless collection from the Soviet era. If cars are not your thing, then you can explore galleries and other museums in the old town. This evening we will attend a performance at the Riga Opera House (details to follow). Overnight Riga. (B)
Sunday 4 June – To Tallinn
We leave Riga by coach after breakfast and head for Sigulda, a town containing the ruins of a medieval castle built by the knights of the Livonian Order, defenders of Christianity and the German aristocracy. We take a cable car across the scenic river valley nearby and enjoy lunch in a simple Latvian country restaurant before continuing to Tallinn. Dinner is in a local restaurant. Estonia is famous for its choral traditions, and we will see if we can catch a performance during our stay. Overnight Tallinn. (B, L, D)
Monday 5 June – Old and New Tallinn
Tallinn is justly famous for its remarkably well-preserved old town, a major trading hub since the 13th century and today Estonia’s capital. Historically, Tallinn was fought over by Swedish, German and Russian colonisers, all of whom have left their mark on the city and on Estonian culture. After a talk, a guide takes us on a walking tour of the city, culminating in the exuberant Alexander Nevsky orthodox cathedral overlooking the city. Not many tourists venture beyond the old town, so this afternoon we explore some of the modern city, renowned for its technology start-ups. We visit the Kadriorg Palace, built in the Baroque style for Peter I of Russia and today an art museum. We also call in at the adjacent Kumu art museum, an impressive collection of modern and contemporary Baltic art. Overnight Tallinn. (B)
Tuesday 6 June – To Finland
This morning we take the two-hour ferry ride across the Baltic to Helsinki. After checking in at our hotel, we take a walking tour of central Helsinki, admiring the mix of Russian colonial, National Romantic, Art Nouveau and contemporary architecture. We’ll dine in a restaurant on Helsinki’s elegant Esplanadi this evening. Overnight Helsinki. (B, D)
Wednesday 7 June – Modern Finnish Art and Architecture
After a morning talk, we travel by coach to some of Helsinki’s architectural highlights. This includes the Olympic Stadium, the home and studio of legendary Finnish modern architect Alvar Aalto and the mid-century modern Didrichsen House and museum, an elegant private museum overlooking one of Helsinki’s countless harbour inlets. This afternoon there will be time to further explore some of Helsinki’s architectural marvels, such as the 1960s ‘rock church’. Overnight Helsinki. (B)
Thursday 8 June – Artists on the Lake
This morning we travel north from Helsinki to Lake Tuusula. In the early 20th century, the shores of this lake hosted an important community of artists and musicians whose houses reflected the nature-loving traditions of the Finnish. First, we visit Ainola, the composer Jean Sibelius’ beautiful country home, before making an extended lunch stop at Villa Kokkonen, which was designed by Alvar Aalto for his composer friend Joonas Kokkonen. The current curators of the villa will host us to lunch and perform for us in the beautiful piano-shaped music room. We return to Helsinki this afternoon, stopping in at painter Pekka Halonen’s lakeside studio, which is built like a Russian dacha. The studio contains dozens of the artist’s works. Overnight Helsinki. (B, L)
Friday 9 June – Art Museum and a Fortress
This morning we call in at the Atheneum Art Museum, close to our hotel. The museum contains many key works of the Finnish National Romantic Movement, based on legend and celebrated in the music of Sibelius. We then head by ferry to Suomenlinna fortress, which occupies several islands at the entrance to Helsinki harbour. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this massive piece of military engineering opens our eyes to the
centuries of struggle for control of the Baltic region. This evening we hope to catch the opening concert of the highly regarded Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2020-2021 season. Overnight Helsinki. (B)
Saturday 10 June – To St Petersburg
This morning we depart Helsinki by train and head to St Petersburg, a journey of just under four hours. After arriving and checking in our hotel, we orientate ourselves with a cruise on St Petersburg’s network of canals, passing by the city’s grandest buildings. This evening we dine in a local restaurant. Overnight St Petersburg. (B, D)
Sunday 11 June – Touring St Petersburg
Peter the Great laid the foundations for Russia’s interest in the Baltic states, and engaged with Sweden, Russia’s main competitor in the region. After a morning talk, we visit the Peter and Paul Fortress. Our day continues at the Carl Fabergé Museum. Located in the Shuvalov Palace, the museum houses the world’s largest collection of works by Fabergé including nine of his famous imperial Easter eggs. Overnight St Petersburg. (B)
Sunday 12 June – Russia and Europe
This morning we travel to Peterhof Park and Monplaisir, the Tsar’s celebrated gardens and fountain complex overlooking the Gulf of Finland. We continue to Kronstadt, the Swedish fortress on an island in the gulf, reminiscent of Suomenlinna in Finland. In the afternoon we visit the nearby Russian museum, whose magnificent collection of old Rus icons reflects a time when Russia was interacting with the Hansa cities of the Baltic and the distinctive Church of the Spilled Blood. The elaborately decorated church was erected on the site where Alexander II was mortally wounded in 1881. This evening, if available, we will attend a performance at the legendary Mariinsky theatre (details to follow). Overnight St Petersburg. (B, L)
Tuesday 13 June – The Hermitage
The morning is set aside for a guided visit to the Hermitage Museum, one of the world’s great repositories of art. Our focus will be on the excellent Dutch collection assembled by Peter the Great and indicative of his admiration of the seafaring nations of northern Europe, but there will be plenty of time to explore other parts of the collection. The afternoon is free to stay on at the Hermitage or to continue exploring St Petersburg’s many attractions. This evening we share a farewell meal in a local restaurant. Overnight St Petersburg. (B, D)
Wednesday 14 June – Departure
The tour ends after breakfast. A late check out is available for passengers departing on flights leaving later tonight. (B)
Dr Matthew Dal Santo
A writer, historian and foreign affairs commentator, with Honours degrees from both Sydney and Cambridge Universities.
Dr Matthew Dal Santo is a writer, historian and foreign affairs commentator who currently resides in Copenhagen, Denmark. Born in Sydney, Matthew lived most of the past fifteen years in Europe. The current focus of his interest is Russia. From 2014 to 2017, Matthew was Danish Research Council Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen, with a grant to study how Russians think of themselves in the light of their history 25 years after the collapse of Communism and 100 since the 1917 revolution. He is particularly interested in how the revival of Orthodoxy has encouraged the return of the age-old idea of ‘Holy Rus’ as well as rehabilitation of the culture and achievements of Imperial Russia, as for example in the canonisation in 2000 of the last tsar, Nicholas II, and his family as saints. Matthew has travelled extensively in the Russian-speaking world, from Moldova, Ukraine, and Belarus to Siberia and the Russian Far East. He is currently writing a book called The Romanovs and the Redemption of Putin’s Russia: Remaking Holy Rus. Before returning to academic work, Matthew was briefly a policy officer with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Matthew has a PhD in Ecclesiastical History from the University of Cambridge, where from 2005 to 2008 he held the Lightfoot Scholarship. In 2007 he was elected Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge’s leading college, and was appointed Associate Lecturer in the award-winning Faculty of History. Matthew also has an MPhil from Cambridge and a BA (Hons I) from the University of Sydney, where he won the University Medal in 2004.
In addition to English, Matthew speaks Danish, French, Italian and Russian.
We asked Matthew, what motivates him to lead a tour to Russia?
“I lead Academy Travel’s annual Russia tour. This is something I really enjoy. My aim with the tour is not only to provide people the opportunity to visit Russia’s famous historical sights and great collections of art in St Petersburg and Moscow, but also a chance to engage first-hand with the way the identity and world view of this most perplexing of countries has been transformed in the two and half decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union. My lectures take a close look at Russian history and politics, with the aim of showing how ‘Putin’s Russia’ (so-called) is still grappling with processes set in motion hundreds of years ago, often in ways that have a deep effect on Russia’s often difficult relations with the West.
Coming from a long line of teachers, I also find the training and development tours that I lead for the NSW History Teachers’ Association a great source of pleasure and inspiration. Of course, Russia is a very big country and my view is that too few people ever get to its vast reaches east of the Urals.”
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
All accommodation at properties mentioned in the itinerary
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Taxis may also be used for short trips on some tours. Some city stay tours may involve local transport
Lunches and dinners indicated with the letters L and D in the itinerary
Beer, wine and soft drinks at sit-down lunches and dinners. Picnic and light lunches may not include alcoholic drinks
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
All tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
On international tours only
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required, and when stated as included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Some trips may be made by public transport such as high-speed train and subway
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Air or land travel from your home city to the tour start/end points
Local taxes and airport levies that we are not able to prepay on your behalf. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Lunches and dinners not specifically indicated with the letters L or D in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as passports, laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
Airport Transfers on international tours
Tours may begin at either the arrival airport or the first hotel. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel, and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
We require all tour participants to have adequate insurance coverage.
For domestic tours, Medicare and your private medical insurance should be used to cover any medical expenses.
Domestic travel insurance is available and strongly recommended to cover non-medical expenses such as cancellation.
For international tours, we require you to have comprehensive travel insurance. Prices vary according to your age, your pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the length of your journey abroad.